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The Fast Company Executive Board is a private, fee-based network of influential leaders, experts, executives, and entrepreneurs who share their insights with our audience.

Hybrid models and digitization: The future of work in 2022 and beyond

The Great Resignation is an accepted term and framing for today’s workforce conditions. Instead of seeing this as a negative, let’s reframe the narrative as the Great Realization.

Hybrid models and digitization: The future of work in 2022 and beyond
[Pixel-Shot / Adobe Stock]

We’ve been living in the COVID-19 pandemic era for more than two years now.

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The pandemic has unleashed what I call not a “Great Resignation,” but a Great Realization: a reawakening of what it means to work and live in today’s world.

With that, I’d like to share a few of my takes on what matters for leaders now—not just in 2022, but also in the years to come.

Labor scarcity is real.

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I think when workers hear the word “digitization,” they often worry about job security, and that a more digitized future will result in lots of people who don’t have jobs to do.

That’s not the problem we’re seeing right now. What we’re seeing is a human scarcity issue, not an excess human worker problem. Looking back four or five years ago, almost everyone was concerned about too many people applying for work. Today, we cannot hire enough skilled labor to fill open jobs; there are over 11 million job openings and yet our unemployment rate is just 3.8%.

There’s a correlation between The Great Resignation and The Great Realization.

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The Great Resignation is an accepted term and framing for today’s workforce conditions. Instead of seeing this as a negative, let’s reframe the narrative as the Great Realization.

Simply put, today’s workers have more choices. Some people work in the office, some at home. Some work full-time, some work part-time. Many more, 51 million to be exact, work for themselves, and those who do report being happier, healthier, and even more financially secure than their traditionally employed counterparts.

There are many reasons why people are breaking out of the employer-employee mold. Here’s just one illustration.

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During the 1980s in the U.S., 60% of the private workforce had a defined benefit retirement plan. Today, it’s just 4%. This shows that the employer-employee bond, and the sentiment “the employer is going to look after me, they’re going to be there for me in retirement” is somehow broken.

Today’s top enterprise leaders have an opportunity—if not a duty—to go beyond traditional labor sources to consider how to best recruit and retain not just the best employees, but also the best talent overall. That includes independent and self-employed labor.

The balance of power has shifted, and continues to shift, in favor of the worker.

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When you have a workforce strategy that welcomes independence as part of your business model, you can meet clients, business leaders, or other workers where they want to be at whatever season they are in their lives.

The reality is that even your permanent workforce isn’t that permanent. According to data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, if you’re 45 years old in the U.S., you’ll change jobs or companies every four years. If you’re under 35, you’ll change jobs every 3.1 years. If this happened during the 1980s, people would say you can’t keep a job. Now, if you stay at a company for 15 years, people would ask you why you’re just choosing to stay at one company, instead of asking why you left.

If workers decide they don’t want to work full-time, they can choose to be independent for a while. Then, they might come back again after five years and say they want to work as a full-time professional.

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What’s next then as an enterprise leader? It’s important to act now, both to engage top talent before the competition and to ensure movement toward securing a future labor pipeline.

While creating a fully realized workforce optimization strategy that engages independents alongside employees takes time and planning, it’s never too early to act. Leaders can take the first step today and create a population of known and trusted independent labor and begin to build or enhance that strategy, those pools of people, and those relationships. Ultimately, this exercise will empower employers to be more effective and efficient—not just in 2022, but also in the years to come.


CEO at MBO Partners, building the future of work via a deep job platform connecting top independent professionals and enterprises worldwide

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